How Diamonds Are Made: Lab-Grown and Mined
Alicia Briggs | August 27, 2023
Alicia Briggs | August 27, 2023
For many of us, diamonds are beautiful and brilliant gems that we love to wear. We even use diamonds to symbolize our love and commitment to a partner or as a family heirloom. While most people know what a diamond is, fewer people know how diamonds are made.
Diamonds are the strongest known substance and their formation process is fascinating. Below, we’ll cover everything you need to know about how diamonds are made, including the differences between mined and lab-grown diamonds.
What Are Diamonds?
Diamonds are officially defined by the Federal Trade Commission as “a mineral consisting of pure carbon crystallized in an isometric system.” Both “natural” i.e. mined diamonds and lab-grown diamonds are considered diamonds with identical anatomy.
What Are Diamonds Made Out Of?
Diamonds are essentially made from carbon. When carbon atoms experience high enough pressure and temperature, the atoms begin to bond together and form diamonds.
Are Diamonds Made From Coal?
Contrary to popular belief, diamonds are not made from coal. This myth started because both coal and diamonds are formed from carbon. While they may have that in common, neither coal nor diamonds are involved in the formation of each other.
How Are Diamonds Formed Step by Step
Mined diamonds and lab-grown diamonds are made through the same process. Diamonds are formed when:
Carbon atoms bond after experiencing high pressure and temperatures.
They then grow a crystalline lattice structure and become a full rough diamond.
Mined diamonds then make their way near the surface of Kimberlite volcanoes where they are mined and collected.The Kimberlite process that carries diamonds to the surface occurs within hours and at speeds from 10 km/hour to potentially over 100 km/hour.
The current consensus is that there were three phases of diamond formation (3.5 billion to 700 million years ago, 550 to 300 million years ago and 130 to 85 million years ago). However, the youngest Kimberlite is dated in the tens of millions of years old making it much younger than the diamonds.
- After that, diamonds are cut, polished, and sorted based on diamond grading.
Each diamond is one of a kind, varying in color and clarity. These differences occur naturally during the formation process which is why every diamond is truly unique.
How Long Does It Take a Diamond to Form?
While it might seem like a simple process to form diamonds, the entire process of forming diamonds and carrying them to the surface could take millions of years.
It’s impossible to know exactly how long it takes diamonds to form underneath the Earth’s surface because the formation process isn’t continuous. Some diamonds might form quickly, in days, while others might take far longer, tens millions of years or more.
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How Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Made: Step by Step
Lab-grown diamonds are made using the same process as mined diamonds but they take significantly less time to grow and are produced in a lab.
There are two ways to create lab-grown diamonds: high temperature or chemical vapor deposition.
The HPHT Method: High Pressure, High Temperature
The HPHT method uses high temperatures to create lab-grown diamonds through a thermodynamic process.
Lab-grown diamonds are formed through HPHT when:
The diamond seed (a tiny slice of diamond) is placed in pure carbon in a controlled cube.
It’s then exposed to extreme heat and pressure to mimic how diamonds are formed beneath the Earth.
This causes the carbon to attach to the diamond seed from fourteen directions.
After one month, a rough diamond in a cuboctahedron shape is formed.
The CVD Method: Chemical Vapor Deposition
Chemical vapor deposition (CVD) is another method for creating lab-grown diamonds. Chemical vapor deposition is when carbon-heavy gasses are converted into plasma via vacuum chambers.
Lab-grown diamonds are made through CVD when:
A small piece of diamond is chosen and then cleaned to reduce the probability of noticeable blemishes and inclusions.
The slice is inserted into the vacuum-sealed chamber.
Carbon-heavy gas fills the chamber at high temperatures.
The carbon gas begins to break down. Through kinetics, the carbon atoms from inside the chamber will build in a vertical direction on top of the diamond seed.
This happens consistently for several weeks, increasing the size of the diamond. When fully formed, the rough diamond will resemble a square shape.
Both CVD and HPHT take one month to make a lab-grown diamond. The diamonds are then cut, polished, and graded based on their quality and color.
All VRAI created diamonds are grown using CVD because it is the most sustainable way to make lab-grown diamonds. CVD uses less energy and costs less than HPHT.
The Difference Between Lab-Grown and Mined Diamonds
The only difference between mined and lab-grown diamonds is their point of origin. Since lab-grown diamonds are grown in a controlled and verified environment, they have a fully traceable point of origin while mined diamonds do not.
Why Is Diamond Mining Not Sustainable?
Diamond mining is a predominantly unsustainable industry. Diamond mining is largely unregulated, and has contributed to significant environmental devastation, such as soil erosion and deforestation.
Sustainability aside, the diamond industry has long been associated with unethical business practices, including child labor and worker's rights violations. Conflict diamonds, or blood diamonds, are diamonds that have been illegally mined and sold to subsidize terrorist or militia groups.
It’s very difficult to guarantee the origin of mined diamonds. This makes it almost impossible to find truly conflict-free and sustainably produced mined diamonds.
Mined Diamonds vs. Lab-Grown Diamonds Price
“Natural” diamonds i.e. mined diamonds, generally cost more than lab-grown diamonds. This is primarily because the price of mined diamonds is determined by a few key players in the diamond industry. They control how many diamonds are available in the market at any given time.
Mined diamond production involves more labor and resources than lab-grown diamond production. Plus, mined diamonds are also more well-known than lab-grown diamonds. For these reasons, retailers can inflate diamond prices.
Lab-grown diamonds often cost considerably less than mined diamonds. This is because they are a renewable resource and their production process requires less labor and resources.
At VRAI, our diamond prices reflect the true value of the diamond without middlemen markups. Due to our vertically integrated supply chain, we can offer the most competitive diamond prices in the industry.
How Are VRAI Created Diamonds Made
VRAI created diamonds are grown in our zero-emission foundry in the Pacific Northwest. We use the Columbia River to hydropower the world’s first Carbon Neutral Certified foundry.
VRAI created diamonds are made using the CVD method:
We place a small sliver of diamond in a plasma reactor.
Once the carbon has been atomized, the carbon atoms begin to stack on top of the diamond and grow.
After one month, a jewelry-grade diamond is formed.
We then cut off the original piece of the diamond and reuse it to restart the growing process.
The fully formed VRAI created diamonds are cut and polished by our master craftspeople then evaluated and certified by trained gemologists.
Why You Should Buy Lab-Grown Diamonds
Lab-grown diamonds are generally a more ethical option than mined diamonds. Mined diamond production has a long and continued history of human rights abuses and environmentally destructive production.
Buying lab-grown diamonds instead of mined diamonds stops the support of blood diamonds, but it doesn’t guarantee that your lab-grown diamond is sustainably made. Some lab-grown diamonds are produced in foundries that have the same carbon footprint as a mine.
That’s where VRAI comes in. When you choose VRAI created diamonds, you’re buying lab-grown diamonds that are both sustainably and ethically produced. All VRAI created diamonds are grown in our zero-emission foundry, with no human or environmental toll.
We are there for the entire journey of a VRAI created diamond, from the moment it’s made to the final piece of jewelry. As such, we can ensure that every step of the process reflects our unmatched standards for sustainability and quality.
VRAI created diamonds have a guaranteed point of origin and quality, verified by diamond certification. Mined diamonds do not have the same guarantee. When you choose VRAI created diamonds, you’re choosing to invest in a guilt-free diamond that you can treasure for life.
Each carat of VRAI created diamond saves:
lbs (65kg) of carbon dioxide
ounces (57 kg) of air pollution
tons (227 tonnes) of earth
Lab-Grown Diamonds FAQs
Read on for further information about lab-grown diamond production.
How Are Diamonds Made Into Jewelry?
To make diamonds into jewelry, the rough diamond is first cut and polished, then sorted by their quality. From there, the design of the jewelry is created and a prototype is formed using a wax casting.
Different diamond shapes are better suited for different designs. Once the diamond is chosen, it’s typically recut to fit the jewelry design and then set into metal.
Is a Diamond a Volcanic Rock?
People often think that diamonds are made from a rock, but they are not. After formation, mined diamonds slowly make their way to the surface of a volcanic rock called Kimberlites. As such, diamonds are found in Kimberlite rocks, but they aren’t made from rocks.
How Long Does It Take to Grow a Diamond in a Lab?
It typically takes one month to grow a lab-grown diamond.
Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Real Diamonds?
The Federal Trade Commission recognizes lab-grown as real diamonds. Both mined and lab-grown diamonds are identical in their composition and appearance.
Do Lab-Grown Diamonds Last as Long as Mined Diamonds?
Lab-grown diamonds last just as long as mined diamonds of the same quality. They have the same physical properties with identical strength and durability.
Do Lab-Grown Diamonds Hold Their Value?
The belief that only mined diamonds are valuable, and lab-grown diamonds are not, has been largely misconstrued. The retail cost of mined diamonds has commonly been mistaken for the value of a diamond. But mined diamond prices are based on demand, and the cost of production, not value.
Lab-grown diamonds are physically identical to mined diamonds. They are just as valuable and will hold their value. With our vertically integrated supply chain, all VRAI created diamond prices truly reflect the value of a diamond with no middlemen markups.
Which Country Produces the Most Lab-Grown Diamonds?
The majority of lab-grown diamonds (50-60%) are produced in China using the HPHT method. Only a small percentage of diamonds produced globally are used for jewelry. Most lab-grown (and mined) diamonds are produced for industrial uses.
Statista. “Lab-grown diamond production worldwide.” https://www.statista.com/statistics/1204042/global-lab-grown-diamond-production-by-region/
International Gem Society. “Is Growing Diamonds a Sustainable Alternative to Diamond Mining?” https://www.gemsociety.org/article/sustainable-alternative-to-diamond-mining/